Sacred Places of Work

I wanted to move game playing out of my home office and transform the area into a space where I would just focus on work stuff. Paint my miniatures, write, draw, work on my trains, or learn to program. Have something to show for my time. So, I bought a PS4, put it in the family room, and moved the Alienware off my desk. All that remained was the iPad, MacBook Pro, and a sacred place of work.

My home office is amazing. We had it painted recently, there isn’t much in the way of decorations. I look out at 57 acres of woods, and several times a week see the local wildlife in the back yard. I have two work surfaces: a large desk that is the 3rd generation in my family; and an IKEA dining table that I use for painting my miniatures and working on my trains. On the desk is my MacBook Pro, the 27” monitor hooked up to my Alienware Alpha, and the related chargers and cables.

The first paragraph was written earlier this year. The second one a week or so ago. An astute reader will notice in the first paragraph the Alienware was off the desk, and in the second paragraph it came back. The problem with bad habits left unchecked they come back like weeds. The painting happened in early June. The Alienware was put away when I got the PS4 in December 2016. By September, it had crept back on my desk like a pile of kudzu. I’m looking at the 27”monitor right now and thinking: that right there is a big bucket of fail. The foundation of bad habits is lies and false promises you make to yourself. I just put that there to have the game on. I want a big screen to watch the drawing tutorials on. It’s out of the way and you hardly notice it.

I used to follow the Minimalists a lot (my full feelings on them is a future article), but one of their mantras is if you lead a distraction-free lifestyle free of things like video games, the TV, the internet, and cell phones you will miraculously find yourself an amazingly productive person.

Bullshit. Hard work may pay off tomorrow, but procrastination pays off today. If I feel like writing and drawing, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. The beauty of personal side projects is there are no deadlines. The curse of side projects is there are no deadlines.

Instead of Minimalism, I instead try and follow simplifying and the essentials. Minimalism feels like paring down too far. A minimalist may have only one Lightning charger, but I have five: one at my desk, one by my bed, one in my car, one at my desk, and in my bag is a set of MacBook and Lightning chargers. It’s not minimal, but it is simpler. Everywhere I need a charger there is one. Because it really sucks when you run out of juice someplace and realize you left the charger the last place you were at.

Likewise, my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook are essential. The Alienware and the 27” monitor are not and will be removed. The rest of the desk will be clean, simple, and essential.

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The Mac

Lost in all this shuffle over me going iPad-primary is that I still love the Mac. There is a lot of dogma and rigidness from the iPad-only crowd regarding the Mac and I don’t share it. Steve Jobs famously said that (paraphrasing) that PCs are trucks and iOS devices are cars.

I still drive a truck. Both a physical version and electronic.

My 11″ MacBook Air doesn’t get used on a daily basis anymore, but it’s still one of my favorite devices of all time. There was a brief period of time recently where I regretted getting it and not a MacBook Pro 13″. I missed it because I really couldn’t play games on it, but I realized that playing games on my Mac didn’t add much value to my life. After that epiphany I felt much more comfortable about the purchase. I do wish it had a retina screen, so when it comes time to upgrade it I will likely get the baseline MacBook 12″

There are some things I do that I either flat out can’t do on iOS (like de-DRM my Kindle collection for archiving) or are a gigantic pain in the ass on iOS (like copying a ton of PDFs from iCloud to OneDrive. Plus there is iOS development which I want to I get into.1

iOS still has enough roadblocks for it to replace my MacBook completely. I expect I will still need some form of Mac for the next three years, at least.

When I upgrade my beloved Air at some point, I’m not a traitor to the iOS-primary cause, but simply a realist who believes in the right tool for the job.

  1. My gut feeling is by WWDC 2018 some type of native development environment for iOS apps will be available on iOS.

Apple and organizational change

There’s one thing about Apple that has been in the back of my mind since WWDC: Apple has done a fantastic job at organizational change in the last year or so. Every organization I’ve worked at has handled change poorly. Either people refuse to accept the change, or the leaders don’t change enough, or, sometimes they change too much.

It’s pretty much a given: Large organizations handle large changes poorly. Look at Blackberry and Microsoft. Both of these companies saw their markets were being disrupted, but still did a piss-poor job at reacting to it.

Apple, on the other hand, is a market leader and on the outside had little need to change how they did things. Yet they did, in some key ways.

Opening up the betas

Up until earlier this year, it was laughable that Apple would ever open up the OS X betas. Yet, starting with a dot release for Mavericks they opened up the betas. Even now, there is a public beta for their new OS, Yosemite. Hopefully, this will clear up some issues like the whole Gmail Mavericks issue.

That said, I don’t think Apple will open up the iOS betas. There are too many risks for key systems. Apple had enough problems with a small subset of users having problems with a failed 8.0.1 update. Imagine if a bad beta got out for an OS Apple isn’t actively supporting.

Opening up iOS

I don’t’ know if iOS 8 extensions and keyboards would have happened if Jobs and Forestall were still with Apple. Part of me can see it happening if Jobs were still alive (he did accept that sometimes Apple needed to change). If Forestall still stayed on after Jobs died, I doubt it.

At WWDC, it was announced that now 3rd party keyboards would be available for iOS, and now apps can talk to each other in a more logical manner without the need for some crazy workarounds.

Gizmodo is off the shit list

Gizmodo got an invite to the September 9 event. This is the same organization that got their hands on a stolen iPhone and told Jobs to shove it. I thought the odds were better I would get an invite to an Apple event before Gizmodo would. Lo and behold, both Gizmodo and Brian Lam got invites. Even with Jobs and Cotton gone, I thought someone at Apple would have a long enough memory to still stick it to them.

Final thoughts

I look at some of the changes other organizations have tried to make and seen how they have failed first hand. That so far, this hasn’t blown up in Apple’s face is remarkable. So far, a few bugs in iOS have given them egg on their face.

Egg is far easier to clean up than shit, though.

Apple does the unexpected; opens OS X betas to everyone

I will admit, I did not see this one coming. Apple announced on April 22, 2014 that they are now allowing anyone with an Apple ID, and is 18 years of older, to participate in their beta program. Previously, this required an Apple Developer Account ($99/year). Now, it’s free, as in beer.

I think this is a great idea. Personally, I’ve been in the iOS and OS X developer programs solely for research. As a freelancer specializing in Apple products, I needed to be comfortable with the new OSs before launch to write about the new features. Now, at least, I don’t have to worry about the OS X program.

When I reached out to Apple PR about their motives, they declined to comment. My uneducated guess is that Apple needed more feedback on beta releases than they were getting from the developer pool. I know that the betas leading up to a GM get a lot of testing from developers, but I don’t know about the dot relases. This could also be a general security issue since betas for the new versions of OS X usually hit the torrent sites. That’s not a good way for people to get their hands on operating systems.

How it works is pretty straightforward. You sign up and download a DMG file which has a MavericksBetaAccessUtility.pkg file in it. Installing this allows he prerelease iTunes 11.1.6 and OS X 10.9.3 betas to be downloaded from the Mac App Store. What is not explicitly stated is whether this will still be in place when the beta for OS X 10.10 starts this summer. There is an FAQ here, but it’s a little vague on how forthcoming betas will be handled. I think that 10.10 will be included. At least, I hope it is. A concern, however, is that the DMG and the PKG file say “Mavericks” and not “OS X”. So, it’s possible this is only for Mavericks. We will see in two months.

My next question is whether this will be available on iOS. I am split on this, and the 51% of me thinks it will not be. OS X has a much smaller install base than iOS. It’s also easier to recover your Mac from a bad beta than your iPhone. Also, you download the files for iOS betas from the developer page; not the iOS App Store.[1] Were Apple to introduce free iOS betas, they would include it in the free developer accounts. You’d have to pay to use iTunes Connect. This would also eliminate the selling of device provisions that generally drive Apple nuts.


  1. Technically, you also do this for the OS X betas, but once you’ve entered in a reclamation code, the beta software appears in the App Store.  ↩

Hands-on: Scrivener 2.0

The iPad forced Scrivener, a great Mac writing app, out of my workflow. I’ve been using various writing tools for the iPad pretty much exclusively, and there wasn’t a need for Scrivener in the process. Now, new features introduced in version 2.0 have earned Scrivener its place back.

Big Feature Number 1: Sync with External Folder

This feature alone was worth the $25 upgrade fee. As you’d expect, it lets you, well, sync with an external folder. The intent here is for you to use a service like Dropbox as your sync folder, although you don’t have to. When you sync a Scrivener project it creates subfolders with the bits that make up a project — a Scrivener project isn’t a single file like a Word (s msft) document; instead it’s a package made up of  files — be it text files as part of the manuscript, or images or PDFs for your research.

When you set this project to sync, it’ll create subfolders for all those nested bits, and you can edit them on any computer that has access to that folder and can edit the text files. This is a fantastic feature for use with iPad editing tools. I’ll export all my current projects to Dropbox. When I edit the project on the iPad, it’ll auto-sync when I open the project up in Scrivener. Also, text files created in the sync folder will auto import. All my TAB stuff goes into one project, so if I create a new article on the iPad, it’ll get imported. This feature is also very handy if you’re collaborating on a project with another Scrivener user.

Big Feature Number 2: Create E-books

Creating an e-book from your work has been somewhat challenging up until now. Open-source tools like Sigil can create e-books, but my experiences with it showed me it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s probably not something the average writer is likely to want to deal with. When Apple recently introduced ePub exporting in Pages, I felt it was the first e-book creation tool average users can work with. Now, Scrivener can create both ePub and Mobi-formatted books.

I haven’t played with this feature much other than to export a project and view it on my iPad and Stanza (s amzn) in OS X, but, it worked, and looked quite good. I did notice the iPad was a little more font-sensitive than Stanza (it didn’t see all the font overrides I set in Scrivener). Using the supplied novel template I also noticed that the table of contents were auto created.

I haven’t tried to send a compiled e-book off to one of the self-publishing services, so I have no idea how well that aspect works.

Not-so-big Features

Better Academic Usage

My experiences using Scrivener for academic work were frustrating. While it was great at storing research, getting Scrivener to bend to MLA formatting just wasn’t worth the hassle. Now, Scrivener includes templates for MLA and other academic standards. There are also now presets for things like block quoting that really help alleviate some of the frustration of formatting.

Also greatly improved is footnoting. Footnotes (and comments) now appear in the Inspector rather than in-line. The combination of these two improvements makes Scrivener a more appealing tool for student use.

Better Outlining

Most of my work doesn’t involve outlining. That said, there are some impressive new additions to outlining in Scrivener. The biggest one for me is custom columns. I live or die by word counts, and now the outline view can show the word count for all my drafts. I can also add columns for progress to a target word count, modified date, etc. This is especially handy for files like my TAB binder, which can become very congested.

Collections

This is going to be the feature I’m glad was included later, even though I don’t currently use it. Basically, collections let you grab scrivenings without changing their place in the overall structure. If you’re working on a large manuscript and you’ve identified scrivenings that are to be the focus of the day’s editing, you can drag those into a collection and not screw up their position. I haven’t figured if there’s a way to create a smart collection based on keywords. I can easily see using this as a to-do list.

Conclusion

Scrivener 2.0 was one of my most-anticipated upgrades this year. It hasn’t disappointed me. The folder sync feature is a boon to us iPad users and lets me use Scrivener as the Grand Central Terminal for my writing. The upgrade is $25 and the full version is $45. It’s a tremendous bargain for such an awesome writing tool.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Review

Azeroth is sundered! A dormant dragon awakens. A colony of dwarves lose their ancestral home and need a hobbit to get it back — oh wait, sorry, wrong fantasy series. While Cataclysm ($39.99) is World of Warcraft’s third expansion, the overall changes to the world make this more like WoW 2.0, or, at the least WoW 1.5. What’s nice is a lot of the changes will be available to all current subscribers, even if you don’t buy the expansion.

What You Get For Free

As part of the — wait for it — Cataclysmic event that sundered Azeroth, almost every area in the game has seen its geography change; the only unchanged areas are the ones from the previous two expansions. An ancient dragon, Deathwing, has risen from within the world, and his hatching effected something similar to the movie 2012, only with better acting.

Blizzard has also learned from past mistakes and greatly streamlined leveling your character. Previous quests involved a gigantic amount of running around for little reward; now the quest hubs are gathered closer together and the game does a much better job at guiding you along your path.

New Starting Areas

Blizzard has introduced two new races: the Worgen (a lyncanthropic race) and the Goblins (short little green men with a love of explosives). Each race receives their own new starting area for new characters, complete with new and improved beginner quest mechanics. Each starting area takes about 5-6 hours to complete before you can enter the main game.

Of the two new areas, I enjoyed the Goblin one the best. Blizzard does well when it lets its irreverence and sense of humor shine, and the Goblin area is lighthearted, fun, and full of explosives. The Worgen area is much more serious. You’re cursed to become a lycan and during the starting experience you’re fighting to take back your city. Which would you rather do: watch the game fight a huge battle for you (your involvement in this epic event is limited), or roast zombies on a pair of rocket boots? I’m going with rocket boots, every time.

The Worgen area also shows an odd lack of polish by Blizzard’s standards.  Usually when there’s an epic battle at the end of a quest line, the game shows a “next battle in 10 minutes” popup so you know you should hang around for a few, or maybe see what the baby has been crying about all this time. There isn’t one in the last battle for the Worgens, and it’s easy to get thoroughly confused about what you need to do.

Raised Level Cap and New High-Level Areas

Cataclysm raises the level cap from 80 to 85, and it’s a much shorter journey to max level than in previous expansions. We were seeing “server first” announcements for level 85s less than 24 hours into the expansion launch, and even with my slow-paced leveling my character was 85 in less than a week. Previous expansions took me several months to reach max level. Frankly, I wasn’t upset at how quickly it happened. I enjoy the game more without the need to grind out levels, and taking new characters through the revamped zones is keeping me occupied.

There are roughly seven new zones in Cataclysm, a slight reduction in the number of new areas usually included in a new expansion. I found two particularly notable: Vashj’ir is an entirely underwater area, and Uldum is basically the plot of the three Indiana Jones movies rolled into one quest line. In Uldum, Blizzard again shows its sense of humor, and it’s my favorite of the new areas.

One drawback to the new areas, though, is how Blizzard has phased the zones. In Wrath of the Lich King, the previous expansion, Blizzard introduced phasing as a way of having your adventure area change as you completed quests. A town might be intact during one part, but destroyed later on in the story.With Wrath, the phasing was limited to a couple of high-end zones. In Cataclysm, it’s much more prevalent. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the exact same point in the story as a friend, you won’t be able to play with them. A friend of mine and I were “out of phase” and it was simply because I had accepted two more quests than she had. As a result, Cataclysm is likely to feel a lot more like a single-player game than an MMO at times.

Playing Well With the Mac

Blizzard has always released its products simultaneously for Mac (s aapl) and Windows(s msft), and Cataclysm is no different. Since it’s a native build and not a port using Cider, it runs very well on the Mac. I played through the entire expansion using a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Nvidia (s nvda) 9400M chip, and even with that anemic graphics processor it ran very well. I experienced no crashes or unusual hangups, although the main cities can drag your frame rates down.

Verdict

I like that rather than tack on more “previously undiscovered” zones to the game, Cataclysm focuses on the continents that launched six years ago. Other MMOs (I’m looking at you, EverQuest) have added so many new areas, that it becomes a little ridiculous. The hard mode in Cataclysm dungeons, called Heroics, are indeed fairly hard and require more player skill to complete than players will be used to — Wrath’s Heroics were fairly tame and a lot of us got lazy.

Highs: Big changes to the WoW game world, for all players.

Lows: Phasing takes quite a bit of the multiplayer out of this MMO.

If you’ve got a character that can take advantage of the new high-level zones, Cataclysm is a lot of fun. But even if you’re not a current subscriber, this is one of the best times to start playing. With the revamped low-level requiring only an active subscription, and with lots of old players creating new characters, there’s a ton of new people running around to play with, which is the point after all.

WWDC 2010 Predictions

iPhone News

  • New iPhone and OS 4.0 shipping imminently. It appears they are already ramping up production. I might even go out on a limb and say 4.0 will ship within a week of WWDC
  • AT&T to allow tethering
  • More tech details of 4.0

iPad News

  • Sales update
  • OS 4.0 new announcements: better file management, better iCal. Bluetooth tethering and greater bluetooth connectivity options, including 3rd party presenters tools, ability to manipulate Photo library, removal of iTunes initial sync requirement. Apple will begin marketing the iPad as a stand alone device.

Mac news

  • Sales update
  • Mac Pro refresh
  • No OS/X 10.7 details except “we’ve got great new things planned”

Cloud news

  • Apple will roll iWork.com out of beta with better collaboration tools
  • MobileMe syncing and cloud backup will be free for iDevices. Possible free MobileMe for Mail/Calendar. iDisk to remain premium.
  • Apple will begin to focus more on cloud storage and syncing.

App News:

  • Possible: new iWork and iLife with cloud storage.